Review: TOM YUM GOONG 2 Sees Tony Jaa Return ...But Check Out Marrese Crump!

Asian Editor; Hong Kong, China (@Marshy00)
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Review: TOM YUM GOONG 2 Sees Tony Jaa Return ...But Check Out Marrese Crump!
Tony Jaa reunites with the team that helped make his name in the martial arts world, but both he and co-star Jeeja Yanin are eclipsed by impressive up-and-comer Marrese Crump in this otherwise underwhelming action sequel.

There is a moment midway through Tom Yum Goong 2 when RZA's principle villain LC begins monologuing to our captured hero, Kham (Tony Jaa). "We were all real impressed with what you did in Sydney," he declares, "but the last five years have been so disappointing". In this moment, LC speaks not only for himself, but for martial arts fans the world over. After the one-two punch of Ong-Bak and the first Tom Yum Goong, Jaa looked set to conquer the martial arts world. But his apocalyptic meltdown during production on Ong-Bak 2, which Sahamongkol Films had recklessly allowed him to direct, saw Jaa's career go into a tailspin that is only now showing signs of recovery.

As in the first film, Kham's sacred elephant Khon has been stolen. Only this time, the poachers are working for a nefarious underground organisation planning to blackmail Kham into assassinating the President of Katana and facilitate a military coup. Framed for murder, Kham goes on the run, but with help from his alleged victim's daughter, Ping Ping (Jeeja Yanin) and bumbling cop Sgt Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), he must evade Interpol, thwart LC's plan and rescue his beloved elephant. 

Tom Yum Goong 2 wisely relocates the action to Thailand, where the baffling inconsistencies of the first film's Australian setting can be forgotten. Much to the film's benefit, there are fewer attempts at comedy this time out too, and Wongkamlao is largely sidelined as a result. Instead the film focuses on the action as much as possible, and when dealing with hand-to-hand scuffles between Jaa, Yanin and LC's stable of individually numbered assassins, the film delivers. However, when director Prachya Pinkaew and stunt choreographer Panna Rittikrai attempt large action set pieces, particularly an extended sequence in which Kham must fend off a vast biker gang - across rooftops and along highways - the results are less successful.

Strangely much of the action - including one-on-one fights - appears to have been shot on sound stages in front of green screens, with scenery either composited or computer-generated afterwards. The results prove frequently distracting, and prestige moments such as the two pivotal fights between Jaa and Marrese Crump, LC's right-hand man dubbed "No.2", are tarnished slightly by the poor backdrops.

Despite that, however, US-born Crump emerges as a major martial arts discovery and the film's greatest asset. A practitioner of numerous styles including the controversial jailhouse rock, Crump previously worked as fight choreographer on Wrong Side of Town, in which he starred opposite Rob Van Dam and Dave Bautista. He also served as RZA's stunt double in last year's The Man With The Iron Fists. Here the two performers not only share the screen, but Crump more than outshines his villainous counterpart. Furthermore, Crump seems easily capable of taking out all his onscreen adversaries, and despite what the script might dictate, frequently appears to have the upper hand against both Yanin and Jaa. On the basis of this performance alone, we can expect great things from Marrese Crump in the future.

Elsewhere in the film, RZA is clearly having fun in his role, as he continues to champion martial arts in cinema, even if he's not always wholly convincing. Audiences are also gifted an appearance from Yayaying Rhatha Phongam aka Ying, the stunning beauty from Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives. As "No.20", Ying is the sole female member of LC's deadly army, as well as his personal squeeze, and has a few fun moments along the way, though clearly isn't much of a fighter in real life.

There are moments in Tom Yum Goong 2 when Tony Jaa displays a fine level of fitness, speed and athleticism, but at other times he looks bigger and slower than in the past. The big question hanging over him now asks whether he has what it takes to come back - repair the damage, both to his reputation, image and physical condition - and reclaim the mantle many assumed to be his back in 2005. 

While there are numerous fights throughout Tom Yum Goong 2 choreographed with a degree of competency and cinematic flair, nothing jumps off the screen in the same way Jaa's earlier collaborations with Pinkaew and Rittikrai did. Jeeja's inclusion always feels like an afterthought, and despite her proven abilities, her character Ping Ping never feels like a legitimate threat or asset to the narrative. No effort is made to build any kind of relationship - romantic or otherwise - between her and Kham. They simply seem to turn up and help when the other is getting their butt kicked.

While Tom Yum Goong 2 is not going to restore our confidence in Tony Jaa as cinema's next martial arts legend, it is a modest yet encouraging step in the right direction. Right now, however,  with the world premiere of The Raid 2: Berandal just days away, the title remains firmly in Indonesia's corner if we are looking for envelope-pushing action in South East Asia. Hopefully whatever bridges needed rebuilding at Sahamongkol or elsewhere have been done so successfully and Jaa can get his career back on track. Hopefully his work in Fast & Furious 7 and Skin Trade will help create more opportunities overseas for the 37-year-old before it's too late, because the only name on audiences' lips after watching Tom Yum Goong 2 will be that of Marrese Crump. That guy is going places.
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jeejamarrese crumpmartial artsThailandTom Yum Goong 2Tony Jaa

More about Tom Yum Goong 2

Brad IndaskysJanuary 9, 2014 5:35 AM

thanks for the find. didnt know of him at all then saw this vid and now am paying attention!

cuttermaranJanuary 9, 2014 6:26 AM

Sounds good, can't be worse the Special ID.

arturoJanuary 9, 2014 8:25 AM

The original was called Warrior King in the UK and that went straight to DVD, i don't think the sequel will get a theatrical release in the UK? I hope it does but i doubt it..

MikeJanuary 9, 2014 12:20 PM

I've been wondering when there'd be a review for this. Sounds like it turned out about how I was expecting.

Hanajun ChungJanuary 9, 2014 7:15 PM

While still rough around the edges, I enjoyed the filmmaker's Bangkok Knockout, and if TYG 2 is anywhere as near insane as BKO, then I'll be happy. I wish some of those BKO guys got more work, but it's always dope to see them in other films.

ricksomchaiJanuary 10, 2014 5:50 AM

No News like bad news huh 37-year-old before it's too late? remember JC 45 when he hit big with Rush Hour, also Jaa is doing SPL the first non Chinese actor to star in a HK lead such as this. I would say he is well off in the safe zone. just my opinion tho.

Todd BrownJanuary 10, 2014 9:51 AM

I'd say he's in a grace period right now with people wanting to see if he can make the transition to international films now that he's free of Sahamongkol. He's too talented not to make the attempt. This current block of films will be the deciding factor in a lot of ways ... he needs a good response to Fast 7 and at least one of either SPL or Skin Trade. If his bit in Fast 7 is poorly received and SPL / Skin Trade don't particularly work then his stock is going to drop FAST. If Fast 7 is strong and the other two don't particularly work, he'll tread water. If Fast 7 and at least one of the others work, hell move up a tier.

Todd BrownJanuary 10, 2014 9:52 AM

BKO isn't the same director. It's directed by Panna Rittikrai, who was the fight choreographer on this. And if you like it then you should check out Born To Fight which is even better and, in my opinion, the most purely entertaining film of all the action stuff Sahamongkol have done. Dan Chupong (the star) isn't as strong a pure martial artist as Tony is but the film is INSANE.

Hanajun ChungJanuary 10, 2014 4:26 PM

I love Born to Fight. Dan Chupong's battle cry before stopping the missile is definitely a fist pumping moment. When my buddies and I get together, we usually rotate that with films like BKO, Merantau, The Raid: Redemption, or more recent Florentine stuff. We loooooove that kind of action.

MikeJanuary 10, 2014 4:26 PM

Wasn't he finally going to be doing a follow up to Born To Fight, at least in spirit?

Todd BrownJanuary 10, 2014 4:42 PM

I wish he would!

MikeJanuary 10, 2014 4:52 PM

Okay, I think this is what I was remembering.

QinlongJanuary 10, 2014 6:00 PM

The thing is, Jaa is not that charismatic a performer, so if you strip away the awe-inspiring death-defying stunts, as age is already doing, I'm not sure there's much left. He's not even exactly popular in Thailand anymore, and internationally he peaked almost ten years ago, with a big void following that. So I'd say the boat has sailed, though I wish him the best and hope age brings him more heft as an actor.

tman418January 10, 2014 7:20 PM

Hey! Any word on how good the 3D is? It was shot in 3D, right?

I can't wait to see this. I've been looking forward to it.

As for Sahamongkol's "reckless" decision to let Jaa direct the Ong-Bak prequel, well, every director has a 1st time. I don't think anyone could have forseen what Jaa would do until it happened. I agree that Jaa's actions were egregious, but I think the real "reckless" decision was by Sahamongkol to spread the prequel into 2 films. I could watch OB 2 again, but OB 3 was an awful, incomprehensible mess, except for the scene where Dan Chupong massacres the warlord and his men.

And as far as Jaa's career is concerned, I think his biggest obstacle (yet a necessary obstacle to hurdle over) is finding newer, fresher roles. So far, all he's had in his SUCCESSFUL movies (OB 2 included) is "innocent country boy gets mixed up in some big, bad business!" I think he has plenty of good years and movies ahead of him that will help him shed the roles that he's been boxed in. He's going to be in F&F 7, SPL 2, and 2 upcoming movies with Dolph Lundgreen: A Man Will Rise & Skin Trade. Also, according to Jaa's Wikipedia page, there will be an Ong-Bak 4 (that will be interesting, to see how it ties in with the series).

Also, at age 37 (soon to be 38), he can finally do some serious, diverse roles in movies with more complex (yet sensible) plots and deeper characters. And I think his upcoming movies (outside of OB 4, if that is indeed true) will help him do that. And he's still young enough to do some rigorous action.

If Jackie Chan was able to do what he did at his age in Rumble in the Bronx, then Tony Jaa definitely can.

ricksomchaiJanuary 10, 2014 10:06 PM

It will be interesting for sure to see Todd, FF7 as a good guy "not confirmed yet" but I'm going off photos of him wearing the exact same outfit as the Rock so I'm assuming he will be apart of Hobbs team, this could leave a opening for a Role in FF8 or the rumored spin off of Hobbs. Skin Trade is getting a bigger and bigger cast as well, a little bird told me they where going for a Theatrical release. So that's good news still waiting to get a Iko/Jaa face off.

ricksomchaiJanuary 10, 2014 10:08 PM

I think you right, I did not feel that film at all but this is just my opinion we all have them.

tman418January 11, 2014 5:05 PM

You know what I really wish would happen with the release of TYG 2?

Why not release the full "director's cut" of TYG 1, with the full length of every fight scene (the poachers' house, the bridge in Sydney, the warehouse, the temple). Every one of those fight scenes was cut significantly. I'd rather see that before seeing TYG 2!

Impe83January 15, 2014 6:56 PM

I liked the movie, the script is a lil bit exaggerated but the fighting sequences are very good, especially the first fight between Marrese and Tony.. cant wait for the DVD I have to see that sequence again!!!

ricksomchaiJanuary 18, 2014 3:26 AM

Holy bad directing choices, if you have a great painting why in the world would you throw glitter on it... I just seen the film ,cool action by Jaa but man I couldn't even pay attention to him coz the CGI was everywhere. Crump did a great job as did the whole crew however Prachya has seemed to take leaps backwards as far as directing and went Gorge Lucas on us all ... this could be from the powers that may be forcing his hand however I dont thing so, Im extremely happy Jaa stepped away from
Sahamongkol Film. More power to him. I actually felt bad when watching this for him. You never put glitter on a
Vincent van Gogh

xtlhogciaoJanuary 18, 2014 7:44 AM

what was the deal with the sticks pulled out of their hair?

wikig1itchJanuary 21, 2014 10:05 PM

Agreed, Special ID was a big disappointment

Adhi ParyonoJanuary 26, 2014 1:23 PM

I set my expectation quite low, but still I'm disappointed with this film. I think the biggest let down are the story and the 3D, which are too ambitious. TJ's acting is quite natural in the first half of the film, but when it comes to show emotions, I feel he tends to overdo it. Crumps is good in his role, RZA is good enough but Jija is a bit waste of talent here. Some of the choreo are recycled from TJ's previous film like Ong Bak, mostly used when TJ's facing unknown fighters, but his fight with Crumps is quite good. The fight in the burning room is a letdown, you can see that the fire is fake and it's distracting. not that I asking for real fire, but if they can't pull it through, they should do it in a different - more convincing - set piece. And somehow, I didn't find the motorcycles fights and chases are amusing, at some point it gets boring. At some scenes, I feel like the director is absence from his chair...I hope TJ will perform better in FF7, Skin Trade or SPL2. I've been a fan since Ong Bak, but feel like his luck runs out....

Nenad Scarfinger GrujićJanuary 26, 2014 2:16 PM

Saw it yesterday, and got bored. Fights are chopped up and don't have a flow. So much disappointing martial arts movies lately. With the exception of Ninja II and Berandal, whom i didn't see, but according to reactions is far from a let down.

QinlongJanuary 31, 2014 10:07 AM

Wow even with the lowered expectations this review led me to have, I still was disappointed. The eye-gouging CGI, the mundane choreography (I mean, by Pinkaew and Rittikrai's standards), the use of Jeeja Yanin as a punching bag, RZA's epic bad acting, it's all really head-scratching. It's fitfully entertaining and does have a few impressive moments, but where is the practicality, the immediacy, the bravado, well, the purity of TYG 1 ?

km2925February 4, 2014 2:44 AM

Movie was a major disappointment. Too many chases scenes that wastes time and not idea of the story line. Moped scene was especially painful to get through. If you're that good, there'd be bodies everywhere, either dead or disabled. How do you go from kicking ass to getting your ass kicked and you never die. Just die already. If the style is that lethal, I want to see people dying.

RMFebruary 14, 2014 5:36 AM

you're right, special id was a huge disappointing, i don't know what's wrong with donnie. he KNOWS how to make kickass fight scenes and yet even the fight scenes were bad when compared to SPL/FP (let's not even talk about the rest of the movie).